Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tackling Twenty

This weekend marks my second (and last!) twenty mile run of the Steamtown training cycle, but for many of my MTT Midnight teammates, this will be their first ever 20 miler.

Just one year ago I was in their shoes and frankly, I was terrified - of the unknown but also of the potential for failure. In my mind, if I wasn't able to hack it on a 20 mile training run, I'd never in a million years be able to do 10k on top of that and successfully finish a marathon. I was also afraid that it would be a terrible experience and that I would never want to do it again and hence, would be miserable for the rest of training and for the marathon itself.

As with so many things, there are 438,413,043,180 articles, blogs, and boards that you could read for advice on how to survive your first twenty mile run. The problem with that is that nobody has time to read 438,413,043,180 articles, blogs, or boards and that even if you could read just 10 of them, you'd likely get 10 different takes that probably even contradict each other. I know this because I tried to come up with the perfect plan last year.

In the end, the sea of information was too overwhelming and I ended up relying upon two things: 1) advice from my trusted teammates and friends, and 2) my own experience to that point.

In an effort to pay it forward and maybe help out some of the Team Midnight 20 Mile Virgin Club, I'm going to take a few minutes to share how I have tackled my 20 mile runs. To be sure, I'm no expert - I have only run 20 or more miles 6 times - but thankfully, each time has turned out to be a not-so-bad (and sometimes even joyous!) experience.

Step One: It's Just One More Mile
This was the approach I take for every single training run as things start to ramp up. Without a doubt, the mental aspect of your "longest run ever" has the biggest impact on your performance. For me, the way to deal with it is not think of it as 20 miles, but rather as the longest run I've done + a few. For most of the first-timers on MTT, that figure is 19 + 1.

Let's think about that for a minute.

This weekend, you will run one measly mile more than you ever have before. At this point, running a mile is such a walk in the park that you barely even notice you've done it. Remember that when you get to 19. You could run that mile in your SLEEP.

Mind games = solved.

Step Two: Preparation
Hey party animals, I hate to break it to you, but to successfully complete your 20 miler and not feel like death, you are going to have to become a well-behaved social outcast starting 48 hours beforehand. For MTT Midnight, that means Thursday which is tough. I can't tell you how much I miss having a nice glass (or two...) or wine on Friday night after a long work week.

But hey, training for a marathon is tough. If you're not up for it, stay out on your Friday nights drinking and go run a half instead (JUST KIDDING!).

Preparation comes in three parts for me: meal planning, being mindful about hydration, and
making smart activity choices.

Meal Planning - Everyone is different when it comes to what foods they can and cannot handle before a long run. I found out the hard way that dairy is a NO GO for me. So I make sure that consumption of cheese, yogurt, cream-based sauces, and ice cream is kept to a minimum, especially on Friday. As a cheese and ice cream lover, this very hard for me.

But again, training for a marathon requires sacrifices. And besides, after the run, I can eat as much cheese and ice cream as I want.

I also steer clear of coffee/lattes/cappuccinos of any kind the night before, soda, big salads, fried foods, and any kind of medicine that isn't a part of my daily routine. Even if I have a huge headache or congestion the night before a run, I won't take an Advil or Sudafed. It's so ugly the next day that I'd rather try to fight through it than risk the alternative.

Oh - and Mexican or beans. Not a good idea. Trust me on that one.

In those 48 hours leading up to the long run, I try to up my carb intake and calorie intake, focusing on protein and good fats like avocado, olive oils, breads, peanut butter, nuts, granola, and eggs. My fuel of choice for the night before the run is usually either a pasta with olive oil or tomato based sauce and chicken or a baked potato with minimum butter alongside a giant lean cut of steak. Both come with additional bread (of course).

Hydration - Then there is the hydration. Being runners, we all just loooooooove to talk about what we like to eat, but not so much about how much we should love to drink water too. I think that a lot of people just assume they can drink the night before or morning of and be ok. For some, it probably works. For me, I start to consciously drink more water at least the day before. I like to think of myself as a camel getting ready to make a long trek - gotta stock up on that water. Of course I realize that people are not camels and it doesn't exactly work that way, but you get the idea.

By the way, here are some things that don't count as hydration:
  • Beer
  • Wine
  • Any other alcohol
  • Soda
Seems pretty self-evident, but I have heard stories of people who go out drinking the night before a long run or race and then wonder why they cramped up or crash. Because alcohol (and soda) is a diuretic that dehydrates you. Save your celebratory drink for after your long run.

Activity Level - Perhaps the hardest thing to be smart about is the activity piece of things. And it's the easiest to over look.

I try my best to not do anything on a Friday (cross train or run) before a super long training run. I'd prefer my legs to be as fresh as possible.

I try not to be on my feet excessively the day before either, whether it's standing still or walking around a lot. (For instance, going to an amusement park and walking around the park + standing in one spot while in long lines is not a good idea the day before your 20.)

Even though it pains me, I typically don't go out to movies or game nights or other social gatherings on Friday. I go home, I fuel up, I lay out the stuff I need for the next day, and I go to sleep. Make sure you get a really good night of sleep. It's boring and makes you a social outcast, but that is the price you pay to be a marathoner.

Step Three: Run It
You're ready, mentally and physically, so now just go do what you do - run.

Use the 20 as a test for marathon day.
  • Wear your marathon outfit.
  • Don't dawdle at the SAGs - get what you need and go. On marathon day, you won't stand around and gab at SAGs, so practice that now.
  • Carry whatever you plan to carry - water, fuel, phone - so that you know if it will get on your nerves or not.
  • Try different fueling options. I fuel on pretzels, gummi bears, and candy corn, since that is what I'm used to from SAGs. If you're going to attempt Gu, sport beans, energy chews, etc you'd better do it now.
  • Practice drinking and/or eating while running. I still stink at drinking on the run, but have gotten slightly better.
  • When you get tired, imagine what you would do on race day. Try to find it within yourself to keep running, no matter what.
Have fun too. Remember that what you are doing is an incredible accomplishment. Enjoy the time with your teammates. Talk about the food you are going to celebrate with. Tell them when you're feeling bad - they'll pull you through. Tell bad jokes. Be on the lookout for "That's what she said!" moments. When everyone's brain starts turning to mush, work together to make sure you don't take a wrong turn and end up going 22 miles instead of 20 (it has happened).

Don't be surprised if you get emotional near the end of your first 20. I still get goose bumps thinking about mine. I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried a little bit.

Step Four: Aftermath
You just ran 20 miles, woo hoo! That means you can sit on the couch for the next 10 hours and not move a muscle until you transfer yourself into your bed, right?


That is probably the worst thing you can do.

It's simple physics - a body in motion stays in motion.

Try to walk a little and stay somewhat active for at least part of the rest of the day. You will hurt a lot more the next day if you don't. I usually feast, then go home, shower, put on compression socks, take a nap, then try to be active around the house - even if it just doing laundry or cleaning.

Oh, and make sure you CELEBRATE. You were a well-behaved monk for 48 hours - go out and reap the rewards now.


So that is my not-so-sage advice for tackling your 20 miler. I feel like I can stand by it, because of all of my 20+ mile runs, only one of them was miserable (Raleigh Rock n Roll Marathon, I'm looking at you). To be honest, the rest were actually pretty great. Empowering. FUN, even - because I have found what works for me.

Do you have to do all of this stuff? Nope. I bet you could run twenty miles even without thoughtful preparation and rest. A lot of people do. But here's my thing - do you want that 20 miles to be a slog, or do you want to feel victorious when it is over? Do you want to do it just to get it over with, or do you want to feel like you have improved and grown as a runner?

For me, I don't want to go on a half assed 3+ hour run at the butt crack of dawn on a Saturday morning. If you're going to do it, why not do your best?

With that, I'll wish you happy prepping and see you all out there on Saturday!

Further reading on my 20+ experiences from last year's MTT, if you're interested or bored:

First 20 Miler Ever

The Road to Steamtown: Week 16

What a week!

4 runs (including 2 races) for 34 miles
1 mile swim

Running miles logged so far: 523.4
STLY: 506.05

Training highlights:
  • New 5k PR on Tuesday, when I participated in the Amazing Raise 5k. This is a fundraising race where each entrant runs for their chosen non-profit in hopes of nabbing a cash prize for best in age group. I ran for my beloved Richmond Symphony and really made an all out effort. For the first time ever during a race, I felt like I might actually get sick from over-exertion, but I didn't and was so bound and determined to give it my all that it didn't stop me either. Unfortunately, my 23:04, though a PR for me by 2 full minutes, was not a winner in my age group. Turns out I had the women's overall winner (who did an 18:43) as well as the next 4 top women in my age group (lucky me). I finished 6th of 122 in my age group but 10th female overall, which I feel pretty proud about. And did I mention that this was not a flat course? No indeed - very hilly actually.
  • Wednesday featured my first ever twofer. Kit and I hit Riverside Drive in the morning. Along the way I twisted my ankle/foot on the Pony Pasture trails, even though there was no visible obstacle. Being the stubborn person I am, I kept going. (But it only hurts when I'm not running - I swear!). Iced it all day at work and then met up with a gaggle of folks at the Sports Backer's open house run. Marcey and I did a nice little 3 miler, giving me the grant total of 12 for the day.
  • Bonus run on Friday morning 'cause the weather was just too nice to pass up!
  • Second PR of the week at the Philly Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon. Perfect weather, nice course, and made myself a new running buddy who helped me rock out the last 7 miles of this race (featuring two sub-8:00 miles, one being mile 13!). A more detailed race report to follow.

Training lowlights:
  • My problematic and apparently incredibly weak left ankle has got me on edge. I opted not to run with my ankle compression sleeve at Philly because it has a tendency to cut into the bottom of my foot, but I feel like I need some kind of support for Steamtown. So... I'm not exactly sure what to do. I meant to go grab an AOS ankle brace at the local medical supply store to test it out before this weekend's scheduled 20 miler, but I haven't had the time and already logged this week's miles (meaning no test run before Saturday).
Other than that, I'm feeling incredibly strong and confident about the marathon right now, which is great. Bonus that the weather has suddenly turned into fall and thus far, the week's runs have been my favorite kind - crisp and cool.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Road To Steamtown: Weeks 8-15 (?!?!?!)

First and foremost, I am still alive and I am still training for the marathon.

Running miles logged so far: 489.45
STLY: 469.85

So, what on Earth happened to me back in July?

Where do I even begin...


The week after I wrote my last update, I took it easy. After a 30 mile week, I dropped to 14.5 miles. No speed work, an "easy" test run of 4.5 miles mid week, and a scheduled 13 mile long run that was cut short thanks to a giant thunder/lightening storm. I am still shocked that MTT allowed us to go out at all that morning - it was storming when we arrived and even though it stopped briefly, we knew thanks to radar that another round was coming. We were 5 miles in, running next to a golf course, when a huge thunder clap came out of nowhere and warning sirens on the golf course went off. We opted to seek shelter on the University of Richmond campus and made it to a student commons building just as things really opened up. After the worst went through, we decided to run back the way we came because hey - there was no other way to get back. It was absolutely pouring the entire way back. Not fun.

The following week (also my last week on my previous job... more on that later), my anxiety about my foot hit the limit. I went to Dr. Cutter on July 30  at 9 am for X-Rays. The X-Rays revealed that my pesky 4th metatarsal was fine, but there was clouding on the 5th that concerned him. Next stop? An MRI that afternoon. More later on what to expect from an MRI. Let's just say I was clueless and ended up being surprised by the process.

And the bill.

Anywho, I got my MRI at 3 pm and was back in Dr. Cutter's office looking at the oh-so-fascinating images of my foot bones and such by 4 pm. The verdict? My bones looks beautiful (thank God) but there was a lot of swelling and fluid in the ball of my foot, indicating a slight sprain.

But Doctor, can I still run?

Yes, I could. Woo hoo!

Surprise MRI: $550
Peace of mind: Priceless.


Started nicely. I started my new job on August 4th, which was a stressful but happy change.

Husband and I were in Baltimore for the Cardinals vs. O's series the weekend of Aug 9 -10, so I took the opportunity to run with the Baltimore Pacemakers group, as I had before. It was a very nice run and a great chance to catch up with my instant-friend, Barbara, who I met and clicked with at last year's Shakeout Run with Bart Yasso before the marathon. (I took a photo with Barbara but apparently when I did the new iPhone update it ate all of my pictures and I can't find it...awesome.) She has me nearly convinced to try a triathlon next year.

The week of August 18th, Greg, Kit, and I were doing our Wednesday longish run - a mix of roads and trails. During the trail portion I kept stepping wrong and my ankle would wobble a bit. And then I bit it - big time. I actually just sat there for a few minutes as the pain flooded through my left foot, thinking that this was it - I was done. The irony is that I fell not on the actual trail but on a little cut through of beat down grass and dirt that is perfectly root-and-obstacle free.

The guys sprang into action, offering for one to run back and fetch a car and for one to stay with me. I told them to just wait a minute. They pulled me up after I collected myself (I did not cry, though I came close), and I walked it off for a few minutes. Bleeding EVERYWHERE from a cut on my knee and covered with dirt. Being the boneheaded girl that I am, I insisted we run back to the Y. Which we did.

Running it back on the 9th Street bridge after biting it.

Bad ass trail runner.

My twisted/sprained foot was tender to the touch and ugly as all get out, but it didn't hurt to run. So... I kept running and logged a total of 26 miles that week and 30 the following.

Aside from getting a new job in August, Husband I also finally sold our house out in the country and were in the process of purchasing our new home (inspections, addendums, appraisals, mortgages... oh my!), which is in Richmond proper. As anyone who has ever gone through the process of purchasing a home knows, it is one of the most stressful life events. Throw in a demanding new job and the peak of marathon training on top and you can imagine what kind of stress I was under.

And unfortunately for us, things were not smooth. Our intended move in date (Labor Day weekend) had to be delayed because of shenanigans with our buyers' USDA-backed loan, which didn't clear the process until ten full business days AFTER the original closing date. We were living out of suitcases at my in-laws house for a week because our previous residence was fully packed and unlivable. My anxiety was so high that I was sick to my stomach (literally), which caused missed training runs, I wasn't sleeping well, and had no appetite. Basically I was a walking ball of stress from September 1 through out closing date, September 11.

The reschedule also meant that I was going to miss an 18 mile training run on September 6th. It turns out that was lucky for me, as it went down as THE WORST RUN IN THE HISTORY OF MTT thanks to extremely high temperatures and humidity. We were moving that day, so I still got plenty of exercise. But a week that was supposed to include 33 miles had just 15... 5 of which were a casual jaunt with Marcey on our first ever KBP + HMR Labor Day Run.

Which brings us up to last week (whew!)... and my first 20 miler of the training cycle. To say I was more than a little worried about my ability to pull of 20 is an understatement. But, thankfully, things went absolutely beautifully. The weather cooperated (overcast, in the high 60s). The route was challenging but one that I don't mind. I ended up getting separated from the main posse, but grinding out the hills of Riverside Drive and tackling the Lee Bridge by myself wasn't so bad. I finished in under 3 hours, feeling quite accomplished. Nothing hurt except my feet - which I expected. I knew my shoes were done but hadn't yet been able to locate my new pair (still in a box somewhere...).

Feeling on top of the world, I met a bunch of Team Midnight at the local dessert restaurant, Shyndigz, where we all ate cake for dinner.

For reference, the cup behind the cake is a pint glass.
(Meaning, this cake is HUGE)

Then that night, the shit hit the fan - literally. At 8 pm, I sent Husband downstairs to switch out laundry. He came back up to our bedroom, where I was organizing the closet, to inform me that the bathroom had, in his words, "Exploded."

The main sewer line into the house had backed up and there was literally sewage in my house. At 8 pm on a Saturday night.


Cue frantic calls to emergency plumbers, home warranty company (completely unhelpful, in case you're wondering), and real estate agent. The plumber arrived at 9 pm and left at 2 am ($165/hour... you do the math), having cleared the blockage for the night but informing us that we had root infestation in the main line and that it would have to be replaced. Oh and guess what? NONE OF IT is covered by home owners insurance, home warranties, or the municipal government. That means we are possibly looking at thousands of dollars worth of repairs. After having just spent thousands of dollars to move.

So... it's been fun.

But the good news is that our new home is located in a prime spot for runners. I have easy access to the James River Trail system and Riverside Drive, which is probably the most picturesque place in all of Richmond to run. So much so that it is on the marathon route and 75% of the photos that you see accompanying articles about the Richmond Marathon are ones taken on Riverside Drive.

Like this one.

Easy access means that this is less than a mile away from my door step.

Kit and I have embarked upon two runs from my house thus far. We always be sure to run east on Riverside, just as the sun is coming up over the river. It is absolutely breathtaking - and it reminds me that all of the stress and anxiety have been worth it.

Three Weeks to Steamtown

This brings us to today. September 18.

So far this week, I PR'd the crap out of a 5k on Tuesday night with a 23:04. That's 2 minutes off of my previous PR and on a hilly course too. I finished 10th out of 431 females, 6th in my age group, and 68th overall. I'm pretty proud of that.

Then yesterday morning, my lame foot gave out again during my run with Kit. I didn't fall, but there was that searing pain (same as August) and I had to stop then walk it off. Truly, I have no idea what even set it off... the trails are very flat and relatively obstruction free in Pony Pasture. The lovely bruising is back, but again, being me, I am running on it all the same. We finished that run and then last night I did 3 more with Marcey at the Sports Backer's open house celebration. My self-diagnosis is that the ligaments are just so loose that where a normal person's foot would recover after hitting something uneven, mine just decides to roll completely. I'm going to try to track down some strengthening exercises but other wise am carrying on.

Teresa and I are running the Philadelphia Rock n Roll Half this weekend.

Then there's a 20 miler. Then a 12 miler.

And then the marathon on October 13.

I'm feeling confident at this point, especially after last week's 20. That evening I was having a bit of piriformis pain but it was gone on Sunday. No residual soreness what-so-ever. I guess that means I'm doing something right, even though I feel like this training cycle has been less than ideal.

But through all of this craziness, I am more thankful than ever for the run. It was the only constant in my life throughout the past 6 weeks. No matter what was happening, I knew one thing would be there for me, unchanged. And it was.

So onward we go... 24 days til Steamtown.